WASHINGTON — Montana Rep. Ryan Zinke was confirmed Wednesday as President Donald Trump’s Interior secretary, responsible for more than 400 million acres of public land, mostly in the West.
The Republican-controlled Senate did so by a vote of 68-31, with the confirmation drawing congratulations and applause from across the outdoors sector.
“We thank the Senate for confirming Secretary Ryan Zinke to lead the Department of the Interior,” said Miles Moretti, president of the Mule Deer Foundation. “As a sportsman and conservationist, Secretary Zinke fully understands the importance of, and the challenges facing, wildlife and public land management. We know that Secretary Zinke will bring his common-sense conservation vision to the Department of the Interior.”
Zinke, a Republican in his second term as Montana’s sole House member, told senators at a January hearing that federal land management should be done under a “multiple-use” model that allows hiking, hunting, fishing and camping along with harvesting timber, mining for coal and drilling for oil and natural gas.
Zinke also pledged to tackle an estimated $12 billion backlog in maintenance and repair at national parks and stand firm against attempts to sell, give away or transfer federal lands.
Zinke, 55, a former Navy SEAL and Montana state senator, resigned as a delegate to the Republican National Convention last year to protest the GOP’s position in favor of land transfers to state or private groups.
Still, his stance on public lands has come into question in recent weeks after he voted in favor of a House rule that would allow federal land transfers to be considered cost-free and budget-neutral, making it easier for drilling and development.
Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington state, the top Democrat on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said she is not convinced that Zinke will be able to “stand up” to Trump and prevent oil, gas and mining companies from unduly exploiting public lands.
Cantwell also said Zinke appears willing to support transfer of some federal lands to states, citing his vote for the GOP-sponsored rules package. She said she worries that Zinke may weaken or repeal recent designations by President Barack Obama of national monuments, including Utah’s Bears Ears monument.
Senate Energy Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski of Alaska called Zinke an excellent choice, noting that the fifth-generation Montanan is an avid hunter, fisherman and skier.
“He was born in the West. He lives in the West. He understands it, he understands its people,” Murkowski said.
Zinke also has “firsthand experience in trying to solve” problems faced by the Interior Department and has “shown he understands the need for the department to be a partner of Alaska and our Western states,” Murkowski said.
Zinke’s confirmation also was applauded in statements by outdoors organizations across the country:
“Ducks Unlimited is pleased to see Congressman Zinke confirmed as the Secretary of Interior,” said Dale Hall, CEO of Ducks Unlimited. “As a hunter, angler and conservationist himself, Zinke is a smart choice as the leader for our natural resources. Ducks Unlimited applauds the Senate leadership on this confirmation.”
“The confirmation of an avid outdoorsman to lead the U.S. Department of the Interior marks the end of a hostile era towards hunters and sportsmen,” said Chris W. Cox, executive director of the National Rifle Association‘s Institute for Legislative Action. “The NRA looks forward to working with Secretary Zinke in the pursuit of true conservation that respects the rights of America’s outdoorsmen and women.”
“The Outdoor Recreation Industry Roundtable thanks the Senate for its vote confirming Ryan Zinke as Secretary of the Interior,” said Derrick Crandall, President of the American Recreation Coalition. “We are really looking forward to working with him and his team to advance the outdoor recreation sector, grow jobs in the U.S. and ensure that all Americans have access to healthy, active outdoor fun on their public lands and waters.”